The bargain ordinarily struck between the totalitarian state and its citizens is, though admittedly a poor one, in exchange for complete ownership, three subsistence meals a day and a relatively rat-free hovel in which to sleep. North Korea is different. Though the 24/7 ownership of every man, woman and child is an uncontestable article of faith, it remains a famine state in which the other half of the bargain is not kept and uncounted millions starve to death. We know this to be so because no matter how hermetically sealed North Korea may be – China to its north, an untraversable demilitarized zone to its south, the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan on either long side – people escape from time to time. And then there’s the unconcealed metric of human misery, the height and weight of its population is measurably shorter and lighter than its neighbors.
To every wall is adorned a picture of the Dear Leader. To fail to have such a picture in one’s home is a crime. Substandard zeal in praise of the Dear Leader is a crime. Substandard grief at his death is likewise a crime. A woman without a husband or father of influence is subject to rape without recourse or remedy. The rapist of such a girl is never punished and her lot in life is a foregone abomination, without hope, without mercy, without compassion.
Nothing works except the military, the police, and the apparatus that supports and nourishes the Dear Leader and the elite of his party. Kim Jong un routinely dines on foie gras, caviar and lobster while his people die of starvation. No extravagance is forbidden him.
This is Donald Trump’s friend, a man Trump loves, admires and envies. So when a photographer from TIME Magazine tried to snap a picture of a personal letter from Kim Jong un to Donald Trump and Trump threatened to have him jailed, it was Trump making homage, unconscious perhaps, to Chairman Kim. It was Trump tasting, however briefly, a privilege Kim takes for granted: the power to have anyone he wants, for any reason he wants, imprisoned, tortured or even murdered, for the smallest most whimsical reason.
The chasm between the monster Trump wants to be and the monster he is narrows daily. With such men to emulate, Kim Jong un, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Xi Jinping, it is Kim he loves best. After all, North Korea is a praise factory operating twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, in continuous exaltation to the name of Kim. To a man like Trump who cannot go five minutes without praising himself it would be paradise. Imagine a place where praise of Trump is required by law, and the penalty for inadequately doing so is death. Trump would be in heaven.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.